Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Romans ate porridge, pasta and bread, imported opium poppy and had fleas at a fort near Glasgow

Romans ate porridge and fruit and suffered from worm and flea invasions a few miles from the centre of Glasgow, according to archaeologists studying building remnants, insect remains and sewage at a former fort along the Antonine Wall.

The army occupied Bearsden for a generation, creating “complex” trade networks and a long-term infrastructure in the East Dunbartonshire town. Professor David Breeze, the author of a new book revealing decades of excavations and scientific analysis, says the plan and history of the fort were originally uncovered during the 1970s.

“The bath-house and latrine discovered at that time are now on public display and are an important part of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site,” he says, discussing the 40-mile most northerly frontier of the once-mighty Roman Empire.

“We were very fortunate to discover sewage in a ditch which was analysed by scientists at Glasgow University and demonstrated that the soldiers used wheat for porridge and to bake bread, and possibly to make pasta.

“It also told us that they ate local wild fruits, nuts and celery as well as importing figs, coriander and opium poppy from abroad, and that they suffered from whipworm, roundworm and had fleas.”

The frontier was built as a physical barrier on the orders of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140. “Despite their distance from Rome, the soldiers at Bearsden seem to have been far from detached from the rest of the empire,” says Dr Rebecca Jones, of research co-funders Historic Environment Scotland.

“Evidence shows they regularly received commodities like wine, figs, and wheat from England, Gaul and Southern Spain – as well as some locally gathered food.

“I’m sure that when the excavations were first taking place in the 1970s and 80s, nobody foresaw that the fort would become part of a World Heritage Site.”

Dr Jones describes the book as “essential reading for anybody interested in the Roman occupation of Scotland.” Its chapters also contain expert analysis of pottery, plant remains, soils and glass found in the trenches.

Culture24. 2016. “Romans ate porridge, pasta and bread, imported opium poppy and had fleas at a fort near Glasgow”. Culture24. Posted: June 6, 2016. Available online:

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